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The Harbor Gateway

I woke up in our hotel room in Zhuhai and immediately grabbed our hot water pot from the shelf. I filled it with drinking water from the large bubbler in our room, and set it to boiling. We had by this point become quite accustomed to drinking vast quantities of sticky Nescafe in the mornings, while using the in-room Internet connection, and I saw no reason why today should be any different. While the water began to hum toward a boil, I took out my computer and began the endless journey of booting in safe mode, plugging a ridiculously long Ethernet cable into the machine, which sprung forth from a crumbling gauge in the wall.  I slid open our window and looked out onto the Zhuhai skyline. It was a good view we had, including the snaking coastline and the uphill sprawl of the hotel and brothel district. It was a big city, with an impressive number of uniquely styled hotels. Down below me, the streets were being cleaned by mobs of women with brooms, followed closely behind by men with hoses connected to a slowly driving water truck.

We feasted briefly on the surprisingly fast Internet, and headed downstairs. Our bikes were waiting for us where we had left them in a kind of interior courtyard. In the night, the activity of the hotel’s many air conditioners (which seem to have been concentrated above our small courtyard) had resulted in a fair bit of water falling on the bikes. This had the unintended consequence of us climbing aboard the cleanest set of Speed TRs that we’d ridden in a while. Perhaps five minutes into the ride, we stopped at another crispy duck restaurant for breakfast, and another three minutes later we were at the border of Macau.

We looked at the large entrance for trucks and automobiles and decided it was worth a shot. There was no line, so perhaps they might just let us through. As we approached the border, an official came up to us and requested our passports. He began to question us in English. “Where are you from? How long have you been in China? Have you been working in China?” and, most perplexing, “Are you leaving Macau?”

I felt somewhat like the Private Joker in Full Metal Jacket, wanting to respond “Sir, NEGATIVE, sir! Sir, the private believes any answer he gives will be wrong...” But instead, we politely and studiously explained that we were not leaving Macau, but headed there. With a frown, he continued to inspect our passports, and finally handed them back to us, telling us to go wait in line like everybody else. And so we did, wearing our packs and sweating like pigs.

The queues were cordoned off by large polished metal barriers, and in order to proceed with the Speed TRs, we were forced to push them ahead of us. A Macanese standing in the line next to me called out, explaining that I was doing it wrong. In hopes of not offending during my maiden Macanese encounter, I followed his orders, squeezing myself by my own cycle and pulling it now from the front. It was the wrong move, for now I had to continuously turn around to tend to the cycle, which meant that I was constantly in danger of smashing a nearby traveler with my pack as I swung around. Regardless, I thanked the chap and proceeded forward to get my passport stamped. From there, we walked across a meandering covered concrete walkway, past a number of duty-free shops, a fair number of advertisements for casinos, and then into the Macanese customs hall.

We filled out customs forms, which were available in English, Chinese, and Portuguese, and made our way through with little hassle. We walked out the other side of the immigration hall into a totally new world.

It was a decidedly different city. The wide Chinese cement streets were replaced with narrow, curving European bitumen. The largely undecorated Chinese walls were replaced with ornate European-looking facades. This section of the city consisted of small vertical structures, crowded close to the street, and most of the signs were in either English or Portuguese, with only the occasional Chinese character.

There were certainly no more bike lanes here, and our fellow traffic consisted of delivery men zipping around on motor scooters, and quiet expensive sedans that sailed scentlessly by us. We worked our way farther into the city, and soon began to see ahead of us a massive and far-reaching bridge, which together with a few other, quite majestic causeways, connected this part of the mainland to the nearby island of Taipa. The bridge extended over a futuristic ferry terminal. We were also riding on the left now, something we had not done since we left Thailand.

We began to see the gaudy facades and telltale giant gold windows of casinos, and decided to head toward that part of town, in search of an ATM and a cheap hotel. The ATM was no problem, but cheap hotels seemed few and far between in this gambling paradise. We laid our things down next to the bank of ATMs along a very European looking boulevard and sat down to open up the laptop and begin investigating our lonely planet PDFs. As we sat, we realized that we were strange beasts here in Macau, but for a very different reason than we had been in China or southeast Asia. These people were wealthy, well dressed, and significantly westernized. We were sweaty, filthy, with the beginnings of mustaches, wearing Vietnamese motorcycle helmets, scrutinizing the screen of a MacBook Pro, next to a large pile of all our reeking worldly possessions.

We found evidence in the lonely planet that there were indeed a few cheap hotels in this town, and after making note of the names and addresses proceeded forth, asking for directions in English and receiving cautious, grammatically perfect , and well accented responses.

These studious directions led us rather precisely to the hotel about which we had read, and a few circumnavigations of the steely gray building that housed the place led us eventually to a large, metal, barred door, which opened onto a dingy set of stairs. Scott ran up to investigate while I shepherded our fully loaded cycles. He came down with a frown, and explained that they were booked solid. We continued to ask the locals for recommendations for cheap hotels, and sure enough we found a most studious and helpful response. We rolled this time up to a crumbling behemoth of a hotel, by the name of the Hotel Central.

This place, too, required us to circumnavigate a few times in order to find the proper entrance.  The lobby was large and filthy, so we rolled the cycles inside. We leaned them against the front desk and began to haggle over rooms. There would be no more of that wonderful Chinese value for money, not for a while now. So we decided to get used to paying more than $20.00 a night, and settled on this place. A bellhop-like woman showed us where we could park the cycles, inside a kind of musty storeroom that showed signs of once having been a lavish smoking room, and after cautioning some Russian tourists in line behind us against the cheaper, windowless rooms that we had inspected and found to be too dark and foul even for your humble correspondents, we headed upstairs and threw down our belongings.

The room itself was filthy, but manageable, and most importantly had two windows, one of which was almost completely blocked by a giant inoperable air conditioner. It wasn’t a particularly hospitable environment, but we had no plans to spend much time in the room anyway.


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